I have been reading The Music of spinning wheel by Sudheendra Kulkarni. The content of the book, title of the book and the way author describes is very different from each other. The book has also printed views of many eminent personalities about this book. It includes Nobel laureates, scientists, politicians and many other eminent personalities. Sudheendra has left no stone unturned in ensuring that when you pick up that book in bookstore you get damn impressed by it.
Sudheendra is a well known Marxist turned Gandhian. Sudheendra is also an IIT Bombay alumnus. The scope of his book is very large. Which means different people derive different things form this book. The author however claims the objective of the book is to show that Internet is a modern day Charkha. Had Gandhiji been alive, he would have loved this medium is what he claims.
Honestly, I wont give any importance to “had Gandhiji been alive…” type arguments. Firstly, he can never be alive, secondly our actions should not be based on what the person would have said about a particular thing. We should be driven by principles not people and thirdly Gandhiji was not a type of person whose actions were predictable. Not all his actions were logical. Many of his opinions betray common sense. Assuming one is not familiar with Gandhiji’s opinions on Hitler’s extermination of jews, imagine a jew from Germany asks Gandhiji for guidance. What do you think Gandhiji would say? One would expect Gandhiji to say that Hitler is wrong in doing what he is doing, that Hitler’s violence is despicable. Also, you might expect him to say that the jews must oppose Hitler although through non-violent methods such as Satyagraha. What actually he said is quoted below verbatim.
Louis Fisher, Gandhi’s biographer asked him: “You mean that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?” Gandhi responded, “Yes, that would have been heroism.” [link]
Gandhiji is his letters to British also advised them to surrender to Hitler and in other letters blamed jews for for attempting to save their life.
So predicting Gandhi is hard. So Sudheendra’s “what if” type argument need be valued much. However the thing that I really liked about his book is his extensive documentation of Gandhiji’s encounters with science, scientists and technology. His arguments are convincing that Gandhiji was not an “anti-science” or “anti-technology” person but on the contrary he was very enthusiastic about scientific developments across the world and often tried to related them with his idea of economics. For example he had kept a prize of Rs 5000 for anyone who builds an innovative solution to improve efficiency of khadi production. Later he increased it to Rs 1 Lakh. He set up bodies under the leadership of people like C V Raman and Jagdish Chandra Bose for building innovative solutions for cottage industries. In his writings too he focused a lot in harnessing the latest inventions of science to improve almost all aspects of rural economy. He tried hard to find out the chemical composition of Gur (Jaggery) by writing to eminent scientists of his time but was disappointed with the response.
Gandhiji’s ideas about diet can not be called scientific but he paid very minute attention to it, for example according to him Goat’s milk could be consumed but not that of cow. His love of sanitation is well known but little is know about his love for electrification. His dream was to provide electricity to each and every village in the country. A dream which is still unfulfilled. Out of the 6 Lakh villages only 5 Lakh have electricity. Among those 5 Lakh 58% have only name sake electricity. (so claims the author).
Sudheendra is associated with BJP. He was supposed to be person who wrote the controversial Jinnah speech of L.K. Advani when the later had visited Pakistan. I was expecting him to do something in his book. He does not disappoint. According to him Gandhiji’s idea of satyagraha was inspired by Pakistan. This happens to be one of the weakest chapter in his book. Given the personality of Gandhiji and his interpretation of religious scriptures I am convinced that this could have been case. For example in his commentary on Gita, Gandhiji claims that Gita dictates principle of non-violence. If you read Lokamanya Tilak’s commentary on Gita you will find that he derives the message of armed revolution from the exact same text. We have to read the Gita ourselves to see that Krishna did not ask Arjuna to throw the weapons and surrender before the Kauravas or go on a fast he rather asked him to kill his kin. So if Gandhiji had interpreted Quran and Hadith in a similar fashion I am not surprised. However from what I read in this book, it appears that Sudheendra has forced this argument in his book for some unknown reason. The evidence given for the same is mostly secondary.
Does Gautam Buddha preach non-violence ? To find out the truth you should either read his discourses and then draw your own conclusions or still better if you can carefully look at his followers and see what are the behavioral consequences of their beliefs on their actions. In such cases one should ignore the corner cases and look for an average Joe. For example many people can drive well even if they are drunk or there are many people who are bad drivers even if they are not drunk. However for most people the alcohol certainly has a negative effect on their driving skills. So to know if Buddha’s teachings inspired people to be violent or non-violent you should look at the Buddhist societies such as Tibet. To know if Jihad advocated something that resembled Gandhian Satyagraha you should only look at the Islamic societies.
Of course it is possible that Gandhiji used Quran to justify his methods of Satyagraha.
Sudheendra further argues that Gandhiji had scientific temper. His autobiography is titled “My Experiments with Truth”. Again this is not a very convincing argument. By the same logic discovery of God Particle might mean proof of God’s existence or the movie GodZilla can be called religious movie. Jokes apart, from whatever arguments that the author uses to claim Gandhiji always used scientific temper, I would conclude something different. I don’t think Gandhiji was driven by logic or scientific mindset. It was only a coincidence that certain of his philosophies were congruent with modern science. But most certainly he was driven by a certain fixed set of principles. He always spoke for himself. He had his own opinion on everything and that opinion was mostly based on his assessment of facts and his own principles.
Gandhiji’s collected works spans around 100 volumes. But it is hard to find even one instance where Gandhiji’s stance is based on convenience. On the contrary there are several examples where Gandhiji was humiliated and many instances where he did not hesitate to scold his closest associates. Gandhiji had his own methods and he stuck to them. His methods in my humble opinion were only his and he justified them by using all tools. Just the way he used Gita to support his ideas of non-violence, the way he used Islam’s teachings, similarly he used science too.